METAIRIE, La. -- Running back Mark Ingram can finally enjoy his Sundays again.
Ingram said he watched every New Orleans Saints game live during his four-game suspension after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance and “didn’t miss a play.” But even though he got excited enough to jump off the sofa in one or two big moments for his 3-1 team, he still said Sundays “sucked.”
“They weren’t cool,” Ingram said. “But when we were winning games it made it better.”
One thing Ingram couldn’t help but notice? The dynamic play of his backfield-mate Alvin Kamara, who played the role of both Kamara and Ingram while leading the NFL with 611 yards from scrimmage and tying for the league lead with six touchdowns through four weeks.
“He’s been a monster,” Ingram said. “Y’all have seen it, he’s been a monster, just to be able to carry the load. And what he’s doing is special.
“So I’m just coming to do my thing now. Let him keep doing his thing, and I’ll be able to do my thing too. I’m not Alvin, Alvin’s not me. So I’m gonna just do what I do, do what I’ve been doing to get to this point in my career.”
In some ways, it seems mathematically impossible for the two backs to “do their thing” -- even though they became the first duo in NFL history to both surpass 1,500 yards from scrimmage last year, while each scoring 12-plus touchdowns.
Kamara can’t possibly keep up this MVP pace if he starts splitting time with Ingram, right?
Kamara has been averaging 23 touches per game this year. Last year, even when he was at his peak over his final 10 full games, including the playoffs, he averaged only 15 touches compared to 15.6 for Ingram.
Maybe Ingram will start playing more of a supporting role now that Kamara has established himself as the clear “1A” in the timeshare.
How can the Saints possibly take touches away from Kamara when he is a game-changer every time he gets his hands on the ball? Last week, he ran for three touchdowns in the second half, including the clinching 49-yarder in the final minutes of a win at the New York Giants.
The guess here is the split is closer to 17-18 for Kamara and 12-13 for Ingram, though that might depend on game situations. If the Saints get the chance to run out the clock with a big lead, Ingram might play more. If they have to throw the ball to catch up, Kamara will definitely play more. But the touches near the goal line should be split pretty evenly, like they were last season.
One of the things that made their "Boom and Zoom" pairing so special last season is that they both have the versatility to be used in every situation in Sean Payton’s creative offense -- whether that’s catching the ball out of the backfield, pass protection or running in short-yardage or goal-line situations.
For fantasy owners of either back, the timeshare might become frustrating. But for the Saints, it’s the perfect example of a “good problem to have.”
Kamara needs some help so the Saints can finally let him catch his breath. He played a career-high 52 snaps in Week 1, followed by 53 including special teams in Week 2, then 70 in Week 3 and 60 in Week 4. And he has been limited in practice with a knee injury for the past two weeks.
Clearly, the Saints didn’t trust backups Mike Gillislee, Jonathan Williams or Dwayne Washington enough to give them significant snaps in September. But, after eight seasons and three Pro Bowl appearances, they trust Ingram.
And there is no reason to worry about any significant rust with Ingram, who spent the past month training at the same South Florida facility where he has trained every offseason for years -- working alongside former NFL standout receiver Anquan Boldin, among others.
“I'm sure he stayed busy,” Payton said. “I mean, he wasn’t gone for a year and a half or a castaway on an island. It was four weeks. He’s in good shape.”
The numbers Ingram and Kamara posted in 2017 might be unsustainable. But the concept isn’t.
Not only were they able to keep defenses off balance, but they were able to keep each other fresh.
“They’ve been playing well, so I’m just trying to make us stronger and make us more explosive,” said Ingram, who disagreed with his suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance enhancing substances -- though he never specified what he tested positive for.
“I’ve had a lot of stuff pent up, built up. I’m ready to go," Ingram said. "I’m hungry and ready to play ball and just help our team.”